Marc Staal’s absence for the New York Rangers has allowed them to utilize their young defensemen, but he’s been missed on the blue line.
As it stands, New York already has limited options on the blue line in the bucket of game experience. Aside from Staal, only Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei are the only true veterans New York has to offer.
The team’s other veteran, Brendan Smith, is currently used upfront as a forward. With that, the Blueshirts have been dressing three defensemen in their early 20s during Staal’s absence.
While New York has seen team success during Staal’s injury, it doesn’t mean they haven’t missed the veteran’s presence on the blue line. Yes, his play warranted a couple of games off; dressing three rookie defensemen is going to hurt a club, at times, unless the talent is at the elite level.
The problem the Rangers have run into over the last couple of weeks is the fact that their young defenseman don’t possess that elite-level talent.
Aside from Adam Fox, the young Ranger defense core all could benefit from having him back in the mix. Libor Hajek has seen times where he’s excelled, but like any young player, he’s also struggled mightily. If Staal were healthy, perhaps Hajek would have spent a night as a healthy scratch?
Ryan Lindgren has also seen stretches of inconsistency, but he’s proven he’s ready and deserves to be here when compared to Hajek’s play. It’s not a knock on Hajek as a player; he just needs some more seasoning down in Hartford before seeing full-time top-four defensive minutes.
This is why Staal’s return comes at such an important time for this young Ranger defensive core. Not only is a veteran, someone they all can learn from returning, but it will give head coach David Quinn more options to work with. It allows for one of the youngsters to sit and watch for a game without handicapping the blue line, a practice we’ve seen the Rangers do with their forwards plenty of times.
In a perfect world, Staal comes back and plays at the level he played a year ago where his play improved from the three seasons prior. While that most likely won’t be the case, there is still reason to believe Staal can have a positive impact on this team.
Most of the younger players who play with Staal tend to thrive when paired with the 32-year-old. It started with Neal Pionk for a brief time and continued a year ago with Tony DeAngelo when he started to establish himself as one of the better offensive defensemen in the league.
Staal brings a defensive-minded defenseman back into the fold, something the Rangers don’t have a ton of. A player like that is what allows someone like DeAngelo to develop offensively while knowing he’s covered in case he spends too much time in the offensive zone.
It helps the Blueshirts as a whole to not get caught puck-chasing after possession changes and has someone back ready to defend, even if they are on the decline.
No matter how you put it, this Rangers blue line is young and full of inexperience. While Marc Staal’s absence might have been positive for their development, his return will only help them so much more.